The Lee Strasberg Method
Chapter One - Part One - background
One - Strasberg’s Method shows that an affective memory is a specific, disciplined process, not the production of some general uncontrolled emotion. It is a practical acting technique that was first defined by Stan in Russia and later developed by Strasberg and others in the U.S. (now the “American Method.”) Voice, speech, movement and dance are also important. Rewards of studying the “M”; Why the “M”? The basic problem of the actor is repetition. Can I do it again?
Inspiration is not enough, precisely because it is unpredictable. The “M” is a composite of the acting processes great actors have employed over the centuries to help them conquer the various problems that arise in performance. “M” is NOT used instead of any other form of acting - it is an adjunct to other forms. Train when young; unspoiled advantage. Acting is more than learning lines, etc.; It means creating an inner life of a character, including a character’s ongoing thoughts, sensations, perceptions and emotions.
Two - The Evolution of Strasberg's "M" “M” is the summation of the best. Stan and Stras discovered what actors had already done thru the unconscious use of memory. “M” allows the actor to work creatively rather than mechanically. “M” is a procedure , not a series of rules to be applied specifically. The actor must be able to make his body or impulses do what his mind conceives. Use of memory is essential to understanding the entire process that goes into acting, because otherwise, experiencing on the stage cannot be done night after night without an inner technique. Affective memory = memory of sensation and emotion.
Chapter one - Part two - actor training
Relaxation - at the heart of the Stras "M" of teaching acting - one of "the elements basic to all acting in any period and in any kind of play."
- Eliminate tension, the occupational disease of the actor; stands between him and his character he hopes to create on stage. Can be caused by mental apprehension.
- Tension blocks and distorts thought, emotions and action.
- When relaxed, technique is not evident and thinking and emotions come thru to the audience.
- Relaxation can be learned thru exercise and practice; must be done before any other work can begin.
- Relaxation does not mean comfort; comfort is a habit.
- Use straight back chair; go limp as if wish you could sleep right there; must see tenseness in actor to help them release it; make noises to release the tension or emotion while simultaneously moving - the mind commands the body.
- Movement does not achieve relaxation; it draws attention to where it is needed, however.
- Four specific tension areas: 1) brow and muscles at temples, 2) bridge of nose leading to eyes, 3) muscles along side of nose which lead to mouth and chin, 4) behind neck and down back. (4b: Back).
- Pelvis is a foundation into which is set a flexible pole (spine) with a melon (head) impaled on top of it.
- Relaxation is the tool that enables the actor to make the fullest use of his instrument - himself.
- If an actor can control the physical aspects, then he has the key to control the mental and emotional.
chapter two - concentration
- 2nd element in Stan’s triad: Relaxation/concentration/sense of truth.
- Concentration is the process of focusing one’s mind on an object or objects; object=real object, remembrance, situation, sensation, or what an actor recalls from his own experience or even a totally imaginary idea.
- Concentration helps an actor develop and maintain relaxation by preventing extraneous thoughts that produce muscle tension. Focus and Concentration: support one another; the 2 processes must go hand in hand.
- Students begin to improve concentration (and sense memory) by focusing on situations.
- Improv is a valuable technique for developing concentration (Uta focus on objects).
- Concentration exercises in monologues: say lines AND thoughts.
- Importance of observing minute details in objects can hardly be overemphasized.
- Stras says: All of our work leads to what to put concentration on: during relaxation exercises, sensory exercises, on stage or before the camera, whatever the commitment is.
chapter three - sense memory
- SM is reliving sensations that were experienced thru the 5 senses; reliving, not just remembering.
- It is substantiated by psychology.
- Practicing beginning sensory memory exercises can be compared to memorizing a poem.
- Concentrate on the actual “object” and then test yourself by putting the object aside to see whether you can recapture the experience without actually using the object. When an actor repeats the action by going back to the real object, he concentrates on those sensory aspects that did not work or were not full for him.
- “Work with objects” or SM exercises are as fundamental to an actor’s art as are daily singer exercises to a pianist. An actor should never strive for physical reactions; he should just let reactions happen. Never worry about the end result. Use will and effort to keep concentration on the proper object and let results happen.
- Method acting courses teach specific exercises to stimulate the actor’s imagination and to instill the proper procedure to unleash an actor’s creativity.
- 1st: external sensory experience - shave, get dressed. . . leads to the creation of a sensory reality.
- All taught is cumulative.
- An actor’s concentration should be focused on recapturing the physical sensations generated and the muscular efforts involved in a simple, daily activity.
- Students are encouraged to investigate and explore a simple object dealt with many times in their daily routine; it develops the imagination so they can advance to more complicated and difficult realities.
- Train your senses to remember more and more vividly.
- When you recapture the original feelings, you must then recreate them for the stage.
- Good acting? The use of affective and sense memory: the cornerstone of the modern method of training an actor.
- Sense Memory Substitution for Character and Real, Situations:
- Actors are encouraged to substitute their own truth for what is needed when performing.
- Actors would be burned out neurotic messes if they tried to live what must be portrayed.
- Sense Memory and Concentration:
- Combo generates truthfulness and reality in a performance.
- W/o concentration, an actor is unable to focus on a task and maximize their sense memory. Lack of concentration causes stage fright.
- When an actor creates an imaginary object, he gets more than that object; he gets his response to the object, so he has in effect created a particular aspect of self.
- Exercise work enhances scene work; will learn to think, behave, and experience; bring to understanding of mental, physical and emotional capabilities.
- Ability to design a sequence of an entire scene or play and portray a believable, truthful character.
chapter four - sequence and description of sensory exercises
- Sequence and Description of Sensory Exercises:
- Begins pg.45: Breakfast drink, Mirror - prepare task in mirror and do for class; with and without the props.
chapter five - affective memory
- In using AM, Stras had an actor choose a personal experience associated with the emotional state desired.
- Actor is to recreate all aspects.
- As senses were stimulated, the emotions associated with the sensations of the particular experience would be relived and take possession of the actor.
- Emotion is not directly controllable; based on Proust scientific approach; remember place, sound, taste. . . then senses come to you.
- For realistic, believable acting, external imitation of an emotion is never effective.
- Strive for honest emotion repeated at will; choose proper stimulus to make you behave as you would under the conditions in the play.
- Inner technique used to stimulate affective memory.
- HOW TO FIND? Beginning actors should not do it too soon. Begin with a unusual event, not too dramatic; go back at least 7 years cause more recent events are harder to control. If you’re well trained ok, but watch out.
- An actor must learn to face stored-up experiences or memories; only thru self can you experience on stage.
- Try 100 memories, only 8 may work; intensity will differ and determine the training time; if trained, you should be able to control it.
- IN ORDER TO REPEAT A PERFORMANCE, YOU HAVE TO HAVE EMOTIONAL MEMORY.
- Exercises: pg.87; should be able to stop actor at any time; if too into it, stop and focus on other item; emotion should never be consciously remembered; steps lead to emotion.
- 3 years of training produces consistent results; beginner needs 1 hour +; trained needs 20 minutes; well-trained needs 2-3 minutes. 1) Recall one sense at a time; add each on; recall 3-5 minutes before event; finished when actor has recalled all possible sensations, physical, then emotional; do it again soon before lose feeling; ask actor questions and make them verbalize answers, 2) Do the same exercise without verbalizing; when ready perform a physical task, 3) Next improvise a scene, 4) Add a few lines, 5) Self-guide completely.
- Use AM to prepare or propel yourself into a scene before you enter.
- Pitfall when you use emotion for its own sake; more upset, etc.; use only when necessary.
- If trained, can go back and forth with more than one.
- “I only know one thing to do. . .emotional memory.”
- Often this process is painful for the actor, but Stras stressed that learning to use the pain is an important element in the development of a fine actor.
- AM is the only procedure that works in shock moments.
chapter six - improvisation
- Improv exercises help to solve “actor problems”: listening, habits, lack of concentration, inhibition, etc.
- Improv is prominent in “M”; must appear to be happening for the first time.
- The actor’s concentration (in improv work or in acting training) thus evolves from 1 or 2 simple objects to more complicated objects of character, situation and event to creating a life for a character; pg.146 one word spontaneous improv.